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Humboldt County Special Olympics team starts football pilot program

The Humboldt Sun - 10/9/2017

The first time learning a new sport is tough. But that doesn't bother the members of the Humboldt County Special Olympics team.

This is the team's first year learning to play football.

The chilly evening practice started with a warm-up lap around the Highland Park field, followed by some arm circles and stretches and a run / walk from end zone to end zone and back. Then the players practiced passing the ball for a few minutes before splitting up by level.

Teammates fit into one of two levels in football: the flag football group practices at one end of the field while the skill set group gathers at the other goal line. Other times they may practice running an obstacle course or throwing the football through a hoop to develop control of the ball. Today, they practice throwing and catching the football.

Next year Barber hopes both the flag football and skill set groups can compete.

But this season, team members learn the basics.

"Show me you're ready!" the coach called. The players hunched down on the line of scrimmage. Barber handed the ball to the designated quarterback, who ran around the other players before they could react.

"Go!" Barber encouraged. "He's already passed you! Go catch him!"

The players took off after the quarterback, who had already crossed half of the field and showed no intention of slowing down.

"First year," Barber said with a smile. "We're still learning."

Pam Barber is the Humboldt County Special Olympics program's only coach. Student volunteers from Lowry High and Winnemucca Junior High, including Barber's own kids, help out. But she can only focus on one sport per season. The program is slowly growing, which is good, she said. More coaches would allow the athletes to practice more than one sport at a time.

The athletes already compete in bowling, basketball and track. The state bowling competition takes place on Dec. 16-17 in Reno.

Competitions provide a special experience for the team members, Barber explained. They ride a charter bus to Reno and stay at either the Circus Circus hotel or UNR dorms. They go out to eat and attend a dance after the competition is over.

"It's a lot of fun," she said.

The program is open to anyone aged eight and older with special needs. No skill or experience level is required to participate in any of the sports.

Barber said the participants get a lot out of the program, including collaboration with friends, exercise and a chance to interact with peers. Team members also compete for medals.

The team also participates in local events like the Parade of Lights and the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

 
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